Skip to main content

Full text of ""Robert Elsmere" : and the battle of belief"

See other formats


c 



'ROBERT ,E 

ilVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, SAN D 
LA JOLLA, CALIFORNIA 



THE BATTLE OF BELIEF 



BY 



THE RIGHT HON. W. E. GLADSTONE, M. P. 



f California 

Regional 

Facility 



REPRINTED FROM "THE NINETEENTH CENTURY," MAY, 1888 



NEW YORK 
ANSON D. F. RANDOLPH & COMPANY 

38 WEST TWKNTY-THIRD STKKKT 



GOSPH AND rm; OLD. 

'f 4Robci n imat;ii:.. been 

. . '.' in- upical English < hftrai tei . " must >..u 

.tians," and gradu.r 
Esu' b, and each subseqi 

Struggle. As a result. One ga\e up his belief in supernatural rein 

{KhCT rose to a \\\* d their lisiiii. 

: fora time in company with his family wh 

glinj; doubts and unbel; -her to plunge into Afn 

.is a missionary of the old Gospel < ' 

back home restored to health, and after a time established, not a ch . 
but the club o Hrotherhood." in List London; the 

turned broken in health but not in spirit, only for a more thorough equip- 
and with broader plans and new de>ires to win a continent for Christ. 

in the refined atmosphere of art and science and !; 
the other dwelt in the coarse environment oi a pa^an land. 

roki- do'.vn under his London ia 1 .in the- 

pany of those whom he best loved, hi- went abroad in search of health. 
but only ; th these incoherent utterances falling from his lips 

. 
The mrney hotly pressed \,\ :K inies thirst 

. was for eight M-K jiri>om-r far from home, kim: 

and friends. And y- 1. on that last day of life, he wrote in his diary and 
the ink was scarcely dry when he was led forth to be shot to death : 

" (I ;:, I n: / /j /i,;',/ Up by 

>n xxx., which came (<> n. i near me 

last r. . not to have m* yet" V. 

his last words :>-nds m Kni^land (written n- t loiiii befo: 

scribbled "ij) of -ome camp-tire, wen- //" //m is /// /</>/</ 

'/ my furthty history, thfn t- '.' in- the / ' ///,- li,;i 

blots and smudges, but sweet converse in the presence of the I.timb." N \ 
Observer. 



Tur Lint or JAMES HA.f> 
Afnci. A Htanrv of hb Life and 

^fcfao- With porUmh. map. and numi -r ., 51. .-5. S'.-m by mail 

oo rtccipt U price. New York : AO5 L). h. RA. . Co. 



ROBERT ELSMERE" 



AND 



THE BATTLE OF BELIEF 



BY 

THE RIGHT HON. W. E. GLADSTONE, M. P. 



REPRINTED FROM ' THB NINETEENTH CENTURY," MAY, 1888 



NEW YORK 
ANSON D. F. RANDOLPH & COMPANY 

38 WEST TWENTY-THIRD STREET 



" ROBERT ELSMERE " AND THE BATTLE 
OF BELIEF.* 

HUMAN NATURE, when aggrieved, is apt and quick 
in devising compensations. The increasing serious- 
ness and strain of our present life may have had the 
effect of bringing about the large preference, which I 
understand to be exhibited in local public libraries, 
for works of fiction. This is the first expedient of 
revenge. But it is only a link in a chain. The next 
step is, that the writers of what might be grave books, 
in esse or in posse, have endeavored with some suc- 
cess to circumvent the multitude. Those who have 
systems or hypotheses to recommend in philosophy, 
conduct, or religion induct them into the costume of 
romance. Such was the second expedient of nature, 
the counterstroke of her revenge. When this was 
done in " Te"le"maque," " Rasselas," or " Ccelebs," it 
was not without literary effect. Even the last of 
these three appears to have been successful with its 
own generation. It would now be deemed intolera- 
bly dull. But a dull book is easily renounced. The 

* " Robert Elsmere," by Mrs. Humphry Ward, author of 
"Miss Bretherton." The references are to the one-volume 
edition of " Robert Elsmere " published in the United 
States by Messrs. Macmillan & Co. A. D. F. R. & Co. 



4 "ROBERT E 

more didactic fictions of the present day, so far as I 
know them, are not dull. We take them up, how- 
ever, and we find that, when we meant to go to play, 
we have gone to school. The romance is a gospel of 
some philosophy, or of some religion ; and requires 
sustained thought on many or some of the deepest 
subjects, as the only rational alternative to placing 
ourselves at the mercy of our author. We find that 
he has put upon us what is not indeed a treatise, but 
more formidable than if it were. For a treatise must 
nowhere beg the question it seeks to decide, but must 
carry its reader onward by reasoning patiently from 
step to step. But the writer of the romance, under 
the convenient necessity which his form imposes, 
skips in thought, over undefined distances, from stage 
to stage, as a bee from flower to flower. A creed 
may (as here) be accepted in a sentence, and then 
abandoned in a page. But we, the common herd of 
readers, if we are to deal with the consequences, to 
accept or repel the influence of the book, must, as in 
a problem of mathematics, supply the missing steps. 
Thus, in perusing as we ought a propagandist ro- 
mance, we must terribly increase the pace ; and it is 
the pace that kills. 

Among the works to which the preceding remarks 
might apply, the most remarkable within my knowl- 
edge is " Robert Elsmere." It is indeed remarkable 
in many respects. It is a novel of nearly twice the 



"ROBERT ELSMERE" 5 

length, and much more than twice the matter, of 
ordinary novels. It dispenses almost entirely, in the 
construction of what must still be called its plot, with 
the aid of incident in the ordinary sense. We have 
indeed near the close a solitary individual crushed by 
a wagon, but this catastrophe has no relation to the 
plot, and its only purpose is to exhibit a good death- 
bed in illustration of the great missionary idea of the 
piece. The nexus of the structure is to be found 
wholly in the workings of character. The assump- 
tion and the surrender of a rectory are the most salient 
events, and they are simple results of what the actor 
has thought right. And yet the great, nay, para- 
mount function of character-drawing, the projection 
upon the canvas of human beings endowed with the 
true forces of nature and vitality, does not appear to 
be by any means the master-gift of the authoress. 
In the mass of matter which she has prodigally ex- 
pended there might obviously be retrenchment ; for 
there are certain laws of dimension which apply to a 
novel, and which separate it from an epic. In the 
extraordinary number of personages brought upon 
the stage in one portion or other of the book, there 
are some which are elaborated with greater pains and 
more detail, than their relative importance seems to 
warrant. " Robert Elsmere " is hard reading, and 
requires toil and effort. Yet, if it be difficult to per- 
sist, it is impossible to stop. The prisoner on the 



6 "ROBERT ELSMERE" 

treadmill must work severely to perform his task ; 
but if he stops he at once receives a blow which 
brings him to his senses. Here, as there, it is human 
infirmity which shrinks ; but here, as not there, the 
propelling motive is within. Deliberate judgment 
and deep interest alike rebuke a fainting reader. 
The strength of the book, overbearing every ob- 
stacle, seems to lie in an extraordinary wealth of 
diction, never separated from thought ; in a close 
and searching faculty of social observation ; in gener- 
ous appreciation of what is morally good, impartially* 
exhibited in all directions : above all, in the sense of 
mission with which the writer is evidently possessed, 
and in the earnestness and persistency of purpose 
with which through every page and line it is pursued. 
The book is eminently an offspring of the time, and 
will probably make a deep or at least a very sensible 
impression ; not, however, among mere novel-readers, 
but among those who share, in whatever sense, the 
deeper thought of the period. 

The action begins in a Westmoreland valley, where 
the three young daughters of a pious clergyman arc 
grouped around a mother infirm in health and with- 
out force of mind. All responsibility devolves ac- 

* Mrs. Ward has given evidence of this impartiality in her 
Dedication to the memory of two friends, of whom one, Mrs. 
Alfred Lyttelton, lived and died unshaken in belief. The 
other is more or less made known in the pages of the work. 



"ROBERT ELSMERE." 7 

cordingly upon Catherine, the eldest of the three ; a 
noble character, living only for duty and affection. 
When the ear heard her, then it blessed her ; and 
when the eye saw her, it gave witness to her.* Here 
comes upon the scene Robert Elsmere, the eponym- 
ist and hero of the book, and the ideal, almost the 
idol, of the authoress. 

He had been brought up at Oxford, in years when 
the wholesale discomfiture of the great religious move- 
ment in the University, which followed upon the se- 
cession of Cardinal Newman, had been in its turn 
succeeded by a new religious reaction. The youth 
had been open to the personal influences of a tutor, 
who is in the highest degree beautiful, classical, and 
indifferentist ; and of a noble-minded rationalizing 
teacher, whose name, Mr. Grey, is the thin disguise 
of another name, and whose lofty character, together 
with his gifts, and with the tendencies of the time, 
had made him a power in Oxford. But, in its action 
on a nature of devout susceptibilities as well as active 
talents, the place is stronger than the man, and Robert 
casts in his lot with the ministry of the Church. Let 
us stop at this point to notice the terms used. At 
St. Mary's " the sight and the experience touched his 
inmost feeling, and satisfied all the poetical and dra- 
matic instincts of a passionate nature."f He " carried 

* See Job xxix. n. 1 63. 



8 "ROBERT ELS MERE." 

his religious passion .... into the service of the 
great positive tradition around him." This i; rut, and 
commonly life-governing decision, is taken under the 
influence of forces wholly emotional. It is first after 
the step taken that we have an inkling of any reason 
for it.* This is not an isolated phenomenon. It is 
a key to the entire action. The work may be summed 
up in this way : it represents a battle between intel- 
lect and emotion. Of right, intellect wins ; and, hav- 
ing won, enlists emotion in its service. 

Elsmere breaks upon us in Westmoreland, prepared 
to make the great commission the business of his life, 
and to spend and be spent in it to the uttermost. 
He is at once attracted by Catherine ; attention forth- 
with ripens into love ; and love finds expression in a 
proposal. But, with a less educated intelligence, the 
girl has a purpose of life not less determined than the 
youth. She believes herself to have an outdoor voca- 
tion in the glen, and above all an indoor vocation in 
her family, of which she is the single prop. A long 
battle of love ensues, fought out with not less ability, 
and with even greater tenacity, than the remarkable 
conflict of intellects, carried on by correspondence, 
which ended in the marriage between Mr. and Mrs. 
Carlyle. The resolute tension of the two minds has 
many phases ; and a double crisis, first of refusal, sec- 



65. 



"ROBERT ELSMERE." g 

ondly of acceptance. This part of the narrative, 
wrought out in detail with singular skill, will probably 
be deemed the most successful, the most normal, of 
the whole. It is thoroughly noble on both sides. 
The final surrender of Catherine is in truth an open- 
ing of the eyes to a wider view of the evolution of 
the individual, and of the great vocation of life ; and 
it involves no disparagement. The garrison evacu- 
ates the citadel, but its arms have not been laid down, 
and its colors are flying still. 

So the pair settle themselves in a family living, full 
of the enthusiasm of humanity, which is developed 
with high energy in every practical detail, and 
based upon the following of the Incarnate Saviour. 
Equipped thus far with all that renders life desirable, 
their union is blessed by the birth of a daughter, and 
everything thrives around them for the formation of 
an ideal parish. 

But the parish is adorned by a noble old English 
mansion, and the mansion inhabited by a wealthy 
Squire, who knows little of duty, but is devoted to 
incessant study. As an impersonated intellect, he is 
abreast of all modern inquiry, and, a " Tractarian " in 
his youth, he has long abandoned all belief. At the 
outset, he resents profoundly the Rector's obtrusive 
concern for his neglected tenantry. But the courage 
of the clergyman is not to be damped by isolation, 
and in the case of a scandalously insanitary hamlet, 



10 "KOBERT 

after an adequate number of deaths, Mr. Wendover 
puts aside the screen called his agent, and rebuilds 
with an ample generosity. This sudden and com- 
plete surrender seems to be introduced to glorify the 
hero of the work, for it does not indicate any perma- 
nent change in the social ideas of Mr. Wendover, but 
only in his relations to his clergyman. 

There is, however, made ready for him a superla- 
tive revenge. Robert has enjoyed the use of his rich 
library, and the two hold literary communications, 
but with a compact of silence on matters of belief. 
This treaty is honorably observed by the Squire. 
But the clergyman invites his fate.* Mr. Wendover 
makes known to him a great design for a " History 
of Testimony/'t worked out through many centuries. 
The book speaks indeed of " the long wrestle " of the 
two men, and the Iike4 But of Elsmere's wrestling 
there is no other trace or sign. What weapons the 
Rector wielded for his faith, what strokes he struck, 
has not even in a single line been recorded. The dis- 
course of the Squire points out that theologians are 
men who decline to examine evidence, that miracles 
are the invention of credulous ages, that the precon- 
ceptions sufficiently explain the results. He wins in 
a canter. There cannot surely be a more curious 
contrast than that between the real battle, fought 

*3'5- t34- *3'6. 317- 



"ROBERT ELSMERE." II 

in a hundred rounds, between Elsmere and Cath- 
erine on marriage, and the fictitious battle between 
Elsmere and the Squire on the subject of religion, 
where the one side is a paean, and the other a blank. 
A great creed, with the testimony of eighteen centu- 
ries at its back, cannot find an articulate word to say 
in its defence, and the downfall of the scheme of be- 
lief shatters also, and of right, the highly-ordered 
scheme of life that had nestled in the Rectory of 
Murewell, as it still does in thousands of other Eng- 
lish parsonages. 

It is notable that Elsmere seeks, in this conflict 
with the Squire, no aid or counsel whatever. He 
encounters indeed by chance Mr. Newcome, a Ritual- 
istic clergyman, whom the generous sympathies of 
the authoress place upon the roll of his friends. But 
the language of Mr. Newcome offers no help to his 
understanding. It is this : 

" Trample on yourself. Pray down the demon, fast, scourge, 
kill the body, that the soul may live. What are we miserable 
worms, that we should defy the Most High, that we should 
set our wretched faculties against His Omnipotence ? " * 

Mr. Newcome appears everywhere as not only a 
respectable but a remarkable character. But as to 
what he says here, how much does it amount to ? 
Considered as a medicine for a mind diseased, for an 



329- 



12 "ROBERT ELSMERE." 

unsettled, dislocated soul, is it less or more than pure 
nonsense? In the work of an insidious non-believer, 
it would be set down as part of his fraud. Mrs. 
Ward evidently gives it in absolute good faith. It is 
one in a series of indications, by which this gifted 
authoress conveys to us what appears to be her thor- 
oughly genuine belief that historical Christianity has, 
indeed, broad grounds and deep roots in emotion, 
but in reason none whatever. 

The revelation to the wife is terrible ; but Cather- 
ine clings to her religion on a basis essentially akin 
to that of Newcome ; and the faith of these eighteen 
centuries, and of the prime countries of the world, 

" Bella, immortal, benefica 
Fede, ai trionfi avvezza,"* 

is dismissed without a hearing. 

For my own part, I humbly retort on Robert Els- 
mere. Considered intellectually, his proceedings in 
regard to belief appear to me, from the beginning as 
well as in the downward process, to present dismal 
gaps. But the emotional part of his character is 
complete, nay redundant. There is no moral weak- 
ness or hesitation. There rises up before him the 
noble maxim, assigned to the so-called Mr. Grey (with 
whom he has a consultation of foregone conclusions), 
" Conviction is the conscience of the mind." 

* Manzoni's "Cinque Maggio." 



"ROBERT ELSMERE." 13 

He renounces his parish and his orders. He still 
believes in God, and accepts the historical Christ as a 
wonderful man, good among the good, but a primus 
inter pares. Passing through a variety of stages, he 
devotes himself to the religion of humanity; recon- 
ciles to the new gospel, by shoals, skilled artisans of 
London who had been totally inaccessible to the old 
one ; and nobly kills himself with overwork, passing 
away in a final flood of light. He founds and leaves 
behind him the " New Christian Brotherhood " of 
Elgood Street ; and we are at the close apprised, with 
enthusiastic sincerity, that this is the true effort of 
the race,* and 

" Others I doubt not, if not we, 
The issue of our toils shall see." 

Who can grudge to this absolutely pure-minded and 
very distinguished writer the comfort of having at 
last found the true specific for the evils and miseries 
of the world ? None surely who bear in mind that 
the Salvation Army has been known to proclaim 
itself the Church of the future, or who happen to 
know that Bunsen, when in 1841 he had procured the 
foundation of the bishopric of Jerusalem, suggested 
in private correspondence his hope that this might 
be the Church which would meet the glorified Re- 
deemer at His coming. 

* 604. ; comp. 532, 



I 4 "RO&EKT 

It is necessary here to revert to the Squire. Him. 
self the ttolpa ninpw^vrj, the supreme arbiter of 
destinies in the book, he is somewhat unkindly 
treated ; his mind at length gives way, and a dark- 
ling veil is drawn over the close. Here seems to be 
a little literary intolerance, something even savoring 
of a religious test. Robert Elsmere stopped in the 
downward slide at theism, and it calms and glorifies 
his deathbed. But the Squire had not stopped there. 
He had said to Elsmere,* " You are playing into the 
hands of the Blacks. All this theistic philosophy of 
yours only means so much grist to their mill in the 
end." But the great guide is dismissed from his 
guiding office as summarily as all other processes are 
conducted, which are required by the purpose of the 
writer. Art everywhere gives way to purpose. Els- 
mere no more shows cause for his theism than he had 
shown it against his Christianity. Why was not Mr. 
Wendover allowed at least the consolations which 
gave a satisfaction to David Hume ? 

Not yet, however, may I wholly part from this 
sketch of the work. It is so large that much must 
be omitted. But there is one limb of the plan which 
is peculiar. Of the two sisters not yet named, one, 
Agnes by name, appears only as quasi-chaperon or as 
" dummie." But Rose, the third, has beauty, the 

*5<>7. 



"ROBERT ELSMERE." 15 

gift of a musical artist, and quick and plastic social 
faculties. Long and elaborate love relations are de- 
veloped between her and the poco-curante tutor and 
friend, Mr. Langham. Twice, she is fairly embarked 
in passion for him, and twice he jilts her. Still she 
is not discouraged, and she finally marries a certain 
Flaxman, an amiable but somewhat manufactured 
character. From the standing-point of art, can this 
portion of the book fail to stir much misgiving ? We 
know from Shakespeare how the loves of two sisters 
can be comprised within a single play. But while 
the drama requires only one connected action, the 
novel, and eminently this novel, aims rather at the 
exhibition of a life : and the reader of these volumes 
may be apt to say that in working two such lives, as 
those of Catherine and Rose, through so many stages, 
the authoress has departed from previous example, 
and has loaded her ship, though a gallant one, with 
more cargo than it will bear. 

It may indeed be that Mrs. Ward has been led to 
charge her tale with such a weight of matter from a 
desire to give philosophical completeness to her rep- 
resentation of the mainsprings of action which mark 
the life of the period. For in Robert Elsmere we 
have the tempered but aggressive action of the sceptical 
intellect ; in Catherine the strong reaction against it ; 
in Rose the art-life ; and in Langham the literary and 
cultivated indifference of the time. The comprehen- 



16 " ROBER T 

sivcncss of such a picture may be admitted, without 
withdrawing the objection that, as a practical result 
the cargo is too heavy for the vessel. 

Apart from this question, is it possible to pass with- 
out a protest the double jilt ? Was Rose, with her 
quick and self-centred life, a well-chosen corpus vile 
upon whom to pass this experiment ? More broadly, 
though credible perhaps for a man, is such a process in 
any case possible by the laws of art for a woman ? Does 
she not violate the first conditions of her nature in 
exposing herself to so piercing an insult ? An en- 
hancement of delicate self-respect is one among the 
compensations, which Providence has supplied in 
woman, to make up for a deficiency in some ruder 
kinds of strength. 

Again, I appeal to the laws of art against the final 
disposal of Catherine. Having much less of ability than 
her husband, she is really drawn with greater force 
and truth ; and possesses so firm a fibre that when, 
having been bred in a school of some intolerance, she 
begins to blunt the edge of her resistance, and to 
tolerate in divers ways, without adopting, the de- 
nuded system of her husband, we begin to feel that 
the key-note of her character is being tampered with. 
After his death, the discords become egregious. She 
remains, as she supposes, orthodox and tenaciously 
Evangelical. But every knee must be made to bow 
to Elsmere. So she does not return to the northern 



"ROBERT ELSMERE: 17 

valley and her mother's declining age, but in London 
devotes her week-days to carrying on the institutions 
of charity he had founded on behalf of his new re- 
ligion. He had himself indignantly remonstrated 
with some supposed clergyman, who, in the guise of 
a Broad Churchman, at once held Elsmere's creed 
and discharged externally the office of an Anglican 
priest. He therefore certainly is not responsible for 
having taught her to believe the chasm between them 
was a narrow one. Yet she leaps or steps across it 
every Sunday, attending her church in the forenoon, 
and looming as regularly every afternoon in the tem- 
ple of the New Brotherhood. Here surely the claims 
of system have marred the work of art. Characters 
might have been devised whom this see-saw would 
have suited well enough ; but for the Catherine of 
the first volume it is an unmitigated solecism ; a 
dismal, if not even a degrading compromise. 

It has been observed that the women of the book 
are generally drawn with more felicity than the men. 
As a work of art, Rose is in my view the most suc- 
cessful of the women, and among the men the Squire. 
With the Squire Mrs. Ward is not in sympathy, for he 
destroys too much, and he does nothing but destroy. 
She cannot be in sympathy with Rose ; for Rose, 
who is selfishly and heartlessly used, is herself selfish 
and heartless ; with this aggravation, that she has 
grown up in immediate contact with a noble elder 



is -ROBERT ELSMERE: 

sister, and yet has not caught a particle of nobleness, 
aa well as in view of an infirm mother to whom she 
scarcely gives a care. On the other hand, in her 
Robert, who has all Mrs. Ward's affection and almost 
her worship, and who is clothed with a perfect pano- 
ply of high qualities, she appears to be less successful 
and more artificial. In the recently published corre- 
spondence* of Sir Henry Taylor, who was by no 
means given to paradox, we are told that great earn- 
estness of purpose and strong adhesive sympathies 
in an author are adverse to the freedom and inde- 
pendence of treatment, the disembarrassed movement 
of the creative hand, which are required in the su- 
preme poetic office of projecting character on the 
canvas. If there be truth in this novel and interest- 
ing suggestion, we cannot wonder at finding the re- 
sult exhibited in " Robert Elsmere," for never was a 
book written with greater persistency and intensity of 
purpose. Every page of its principal narrative is 
adapted and addressed by Mrs. Ward to the final aim 
which is bone of her bone and flesh of her flesh. This 
aim is to expel the preternatural element from Chris- 
tianity, to destroy its dogmatic structure, yet to keep 
intact the moral and spiritual results. The Brother- 
hx>d presented to us with such sanguine hopefulness 
v a " Christian " brotherhood, but with a Christianity 

* Page 17. 



"ROBERT ELS MERE." 19 

emptied of that which Christians believe to be the 
soul and springhead of its life. For Christianity, in 
the established Christian sense, is the presentation to 
us not of abstract dogmas for acceptance, but of a liv- 
ing and a Divine Person, to whom they are to be united 
by a vital incorporation. It is the reunion to God of 
a nature severed from God by sin, and the process is 
one, not of teaching lessons, but of imparting a new 
life, with its ordained equipment of gifts and powers. 
It is, I apprehend, a complete mistake to suppose, 
as appears to be the supposition of this remarkable 
book, that all which has to be done with Scripture, in 
order to effect the desired transformation of religion, 
is to eliminate from it the miraculous element. Tre. 
mendous as is the sweeping process which extrudes 
the Resurrection, there is much else, which is in no 
sense miraculous, to extrude along with it. The Pro- 
cession of Palms, for example, is indeed profoundly 
significant, but it is in no way miraculous. Yet, in 
any consistent history of a Robert Elsmere's Christ, 
there could be no Procession of Palms. Unless it be 
the healing of the ear of Malchus, there is not a mi- 
raculous event between the commencement of the 
Passion and the Crucifixion itself. Yet the notes of 
a superhuman majesty overspread the whole. We 
talk of all religions as essentially one ; but what re- 
ligion presents to its votaries such a tale as this? 
Bishop Temple, in his sermons at Rugby, has been 



20 " ROBER T ELS MERE. " 

among the later teachers who have shown how the 
whole behavior of our Lord, in this extremity of 
His abasement, seems more than ever to transcend all 
human limits, and to exhibit without arguing 11;- 
Divinity. The parables, again, are not less refractory, 
than the miracles, and must disappear along with 
them : for what parables are there which are not 
built upon the idea of His unique and transcendent 
office? The Gospel of Saint John has much less of 
miracle than the Synoptics ; but it must of course 
descend from its pedestal, in all that is most its own. 
And what is gained by all this condemnation, until 
we get rid of the Baptismal formula ? It is a ques- 
tion not of excision from the gospels, but of tearing 
them into shreds. Far be it from me to deny that 
the parts which remain, or which remain legible, are 
vital parts ; but this is no more than to say that there 
may remain vital organs of a man, after the man him- 
self has been cut in pieces. 

I have neither space nor capacity at command for 
the adequate discussion of the questions, which shat- 
tered the faith of Robert Elsmere : whether miracles 
can happen, and whether " an universal preconcep- 
tion " in their favor at the birth of Christianity " gov- 
erning the work of all men of all schools,"* adequately 
accounts for the place which has been given to them 

* 317. 318- 



"ROBERT ELSMERE." 21 

in the New Testament, as available proofs of the Di- 
vine Mission of our Lord. But I demur on all the 
points to the authority of the Squire, and even of 
Mr. Grey. 

The impossibility of miracle is a doctrine which 
appears to claim for its basis the results of physical 
inquiry. They point to unbroken sequences in mate- 
rial nature, and refer every phenomenon to its imme- 
diate antecedent as adequate to its orderly production. 
But the appeal to these great achievements of our time 
is itself disorderly, for it calls upon natural science to 
decide a question which lies beyond its precinct. 
There is an extraneous force of will which acts upon 
matter in derogation of laws purely physical, or alters 
the balance of those laws among themselves. It can 
be neither philosophical nor scientific to proclaim the 
impossibility of miracle, until philosophy or science 
shall have determined a limit, beyond which this ex- 
traneous force of will, so familiar to our experience, 
cannot act upon or deflect the natural order. 

Next, as to that avidity for miracle, which is sup- 
posed by the omniscient Squire to account for the 
invention of it. Let it be granted, for argument's 
sake, that if the Gospel had been intended only for 
the Jews, they at least were open to the imputation 
of a biassing and blinding appetite for signs and won- 
ders. But scarcely had the Christian scheme been 
established among the Jews, when it began to take 



22 "ROBERT ELSMERE." 

root among the Gentiles. It will hardly be contended 
that these Gentiles, who detested and despised the 
Jewish race, had any predisposition to receive a re- 
ligion at their hands or upon their authority. Were 
they then, during the century which succeeded our 
Lord's birth, so swayed by a devouring thirst for the 
supernatural as to account for the early reception, 
and the steady if not rapid growth, of the Christian 
creed among them? The statement of the Squire, 
which carries Robert Elsmere, is that the preconcep- 
tion in favor of miracles at the period " governed the 
work of all men of all schools." * A most gross and 
palpable exaggeration. In philosophy the Epicurean 
school was atheistic, the Stoic school was ambigu- 
ously theistic, and doubt nestled in the Academy. 
Christianity had little direct contact with these 
schools, but they acted on the tone of thought, in a 
manner not favorable but adverse to the preconcep- 
tion. 

Meantime the power of religion was in decay. The 
springs of it in the general mind and heart were weak- 
ened. A deluge of profligacy had gone far to destroy, 
at Rome, even the external habit of public worship ; 
and Horace, himself an indifferentist,f denounces the 
neglect and squalor of the temples ; while further 
on we have the stern and emphatic testimony of 
Juvenal : 

* 317. t Hor. " Od.," i. 34 ; iii. 6. 



"ROBERT ELSMERE:' 23 

" Esse aliquid Manes, et subterranea regna, 
Et contum, et Stygio ranas in gurgite nigras, 
Nee pueri credunt, nisi qui nondum sere lavantur." * 

The age was not an age of faith, among thinking and 
ruling classes, either in natural or in supernatural re- 
ligion. There had been indeed a wonderful " evan- 
gelical preparation " in the sway of the Greek lan- 
guage, in the unifying power of the Roman State and 
Empire, and in the utter moral failure of the grand 
and dominant civilizations ; but not in any virgin 
soil, yearning for the sun, the rain, or the seed of 
truth. 

But the Squire, treading in the footprints of Gib- 
bon's fifteenth Chapter, leaves it to be understood that, 
in the appeal to the supernatural, the new religion 
enjoyed an exclusive as well as an overpowering ad- 
vantage ; that it had a patent for miracle, which none 
could infringe. Surely this is an error even more 
gross than the statement already cited about all men 
of all schools. The supernatural was interwoven with 
the entire fabric of the religion of the Roman State, 
which, if weak and effete as a religious discipline, was 
of extraordinary power as a social institution. It 
stood, if not on faith yet on nationality, on tradition, 
on rich endowments, on the deeply interested attach- 
ment of a powerful aristocracy, and on that policy of 
wide conciliation, which gave to so many creeds, less 

* "Sat.," ii. 150. 



j 4 " ROBER T ELSMKRI-:. ' 

exclusive than the Christian, a cause common with 
its own. 

Looking for a comprehensive description of mira- 
cles, we might say that they constitute a language of 
heaven embodied in material signs, by which com- 
munication is established between the Deity and 
man, outside the daily course of nature and expe- 
rience. Distinctions may be taken between one kind 
of miracle and another. But none of these are dis- 
tinctions in principle. Sometimes they are alleged 
to be the offspring of a divine power committed to 
the hands of particular men ; sometimes they are 
simple manifestations unconnected with human 
agency, and carrying with them their own mean- 
ing, such as the healings in Bethesda ; sometimes 
they are a system of events and of phenomena sub- 
ject to authoritative and privileged interpretation. 
Miracle, portent, prodigy, and sign are all various 
forms of one and the same thing, namely, an inva- 
sion of the known and common natural order from 
the side of the supernatural. In the last-named case, 
there is an expression of the authorized human judg- 
ment upon it, while in the earlier ones there is only 
a special appeal to it. They rest upon one and the 
same basis. We may assign to miracle a body and a 
soul. It has for its body something accepted as 
being either in itself or in its incidents outside the 
known processes of ordinary nature, and for its soul 



"ROBERT ELSMERE." 25 

the alleged message which in one shape or another it 
helps to convey from the Deity to man. This super- 
natural element, as such, was at least as familiar to 
the Roman heathenism, as to the Christian scheme. 
It was indeed more highly organized. It was embod- 
ied in the regular and normal practice of the minis- 
ters of religion, and especially, under the jurisdiction 
of the pontifical college, it was the regular and stand- 
ing business of the augurs to observe, report, and in- 
terpret the supernatural signs, by which the gods 
gave reputed instructions to men outside the course 
of nature. Sometimes it was by strange atmospheric 
phenomena ; sometimes by physical prodigies, as 
when a woman produced a snake,* or a calf was born 
with its head in its thigh ; f whereupon, says Tacitus, 
secuta harnspicum interpretatio. Sometimes through 
events only preternatural from the want of assignable 
cause, as when the statue of Julius Caesar, on an island 
in the Tiber, turned itself round from west to east.:}: 
Sometimes with an approximation to the Christian 
signs and wonders, as when Vespasian removed with 
spittle the tabes oculorum, and restored the impotent 
hand. It does not readily appear why in principle 
the Romans, who had the supernatural for their daily 
food in a shape sustained by the unbroken tradition 
of their country, should be violently attracted by the 

* Tac. "Ann.," xiv. 12. t Ibid. xv. 47. 

+ Tac. " Hist.," i, 86. Ibid. iv. 81. 



26 "KOBERT ELSMERE." 

mere exhibition of it from a despised source, and in 
a manner less formal, less organized, and less known. 
In one important way we know the accepted super- 
natural of the Romans operated with direct and telling 
power against the Gospel. Si ccelum stetit, si terra 
movit, Christianas ad Uones.* Or, in the unsuspected 
language of Tacitus, dum latins mctuitur, trepidatione 
vulgi, invalidus quisque obtriti. When the portents 
were unfavorable, and there was fear of their exten- 
sion, the weak had to suffer from the popular alarms.f 

The upshot of the matter then appears to be some- 
thing like this. 

The lowly and despised preachers of Christian por- 
tent were confronted everywhere by the high-born 
and accomplished caste sworn to the service of the 
gods, familiar from centuries of tradition with the 
supernatural, and supported at every point with the 
whole force and influence of civil authority. Nor 
has there ever probably been a case of a contest so 
unequal, as far as the powers of this world are con- 
cerned. Tainted in its origin by its connection with 
the detested Judaism, odious to the prevailing tone 
by its exclusiveness, it rested originally upon the tes- 
timony of men few, poor, and ignorant, and for a 
length of time no human genius was enlisted in its 
service, with the single exception of Saint Paul. All 

* Tertull. " Apol.," 40. t Tac. " Ann.," xii. 43. 



"ROBERT ELSMERE." 27 

that we of this nineteenth century know, and know 
so well, under the name of vested interests, is insig- 
nificant compared with the embattled fortress that 
these humble Christians had to storm. And the 
Squire, if he is to win the day with minds less ripe 
for conversion than Robert Elsmere, must produce 
some other suit of weapons from his armory. 

With him I now part company, as his thorough- 
going negation parts company with the hybrid scheme 
of Mrs. Ward. It is of that scheme that I now desire 
to take a view immediately practical. 

In a concise but striking notice in the Times * it is 
placed in the category of " clever attacks upon re- 
vealed religion." It certainly offers us a substitute 
for revealed religion ; and possibly the thought of the 
book might be indicated in these words : " The 
Christianity accepted in England is a good thing ; 
but come with me, and I will show you a better." 

It may, I think, be fairly described as a devout 
attempt, made in good faith, to simplify the difficult 
mission of religion in the world by discarding the 
supposed lumber of the Christian theology, while re- 
taining and applying, in their undiminished breadth 
of scope, the whole personal, social, and spiritual 
morality which has now, as matter of fact, entered 
into the patrimony of Christendom ; and, since Chris- 

* Times, April 7, 1888. 



28 "ROBERT ELSAfERE." 

tcndom is the dominant power of the world, into the 
patrimony of the race. It is impossible indeed to 
conceive a more religious life than the later life of 
Robert Elsmere, in his sense of the word religion. 
And that sense is far above the sense in which re- 
ligion is held, or practically applied, by great multi- 
tudes of Christians. It is, however, a new form of 
religion. The question is, can it be actually and 
beneficially substituted for the old one ? It abolishes 
of course the whole authority of Scripture. It abol- 
ishes also Church, priesthood or ministry, sacraments, 
and the whole established machinery which trains the 
Christian as a member of a religious society. These 
have been regarded by fifty generations of men as 
wings of the soul. It is still required by Mrs. Ward 
to fly, and to fly as high as ever ; but it is to fly with- 
out wings. For baptism, we have a badge of silver, 
and inscription in a book.* For the Eucharist there 
is at an ordinary meal a recital of the fragment, 
" This do in remembrance of Me." The children 
respond, " Jesus, we remember Thee always." It is 
hard to say that prayer is retained. In the Elgood 
Street service " it is rather an act of adoration and 



faith, than a prayer properly so called, "f and it ap- 
pears that memory and trust are the instruments on 
which the individual is to depend, for maintaining 

* 577- t 580- 



"ROBERT ELSMERE." 29 

his communion with God. It would be curious to 
know how the New Brotherhood is to deal with the 
great mystery of marriage, perhaps the truest touch- 
stone of religious revolution. 

It must be obvious to every reader that in the 
great duel between the old faith and the new, as it is 
fought in " Robert Elsmere," there is a great inequal- 
ity in the distribution of the arms. Reasoning is the 
weapon of the new scheme ; emotion the sole re- 
source of the old. Neither Catherine nor Newcome 
have a word to say beyond the expression of feeling ; 
and it is when he has adopted the negative side that 
the hero himself is fully introduced to the faculty of 
argument. This is a singular arrangement, especially 
in the case of a writer who takes a generous view of 
the Christianity that she only desires to supplant by 
an improved device. The explanation may be sim- 
ple. There are abundant signs in the book that the 
negative speculatists have been consulted if not ran- 
sacked ; but there is nowhere a sign that the author- 
ess has made herself acquainted with the Christian 
apologists, old or recent ; or has weighed the evi- 
dences derivable from the Christian history ; or has 
taken measure of the relation in which the doctrines 
of grace have historically stood to the production of 
the noblest, purest, and greatest characters of the 
Christian ages. If such be the case, she has skipped 
lightly (to put it no higher) over vast mental spaces 



3 "ROBERT ELSAfERE." 

of literature and learning relevant to the case, and has 
given sentence in the cause without hearing the evi- 
dence. 

It might perhaps be not unjust to make a retort 
upon the authoress, and say that while she believes 
herself simply to be yielding obedience to reason, her 
movement is in reality impelled by bias. We have 
been born into an age when, in the circles of literature 
and science, there is a strong anti-dogmatic leaning, a 
prejudice which may largely intercept the action of 
judgment. Partly because belief has its superstitions, 
and the detection of these superstitions opens the 
fabric to attack, like a breach in the wall of a fortress 
when at a given point it has been stuffed with un- 
sound material. Partly because the rapidity of 
the movement of the time predisposes the mind to 
novelty. Partly because the multiplication of enjoy- 
ments, through the progress of commerce and inven- 
tion, enhances the materialism of life, strengthens by 
the forces of habit the hold of the seen world upon 
us, and leaves less both of brain-power and of heart- 
power available for the unseen. Enormous accretion 
of wealth is no more deprived of its sting now, than 
it was when Saint Paul penned his profoundly pene- 
trating admonition to Timothy.* And when, under 
the present conditions, it happens that the environ- 

* i Tim. iv. 9. 



"ROBERT ELSMERE." . 31 

ment of personal association represents either concen- 
trated hostility or hopeless diversity in religion, there 
may be hardly a chance for firm and measured belief. 
What we find to be troublesome, yet from some in- 
ward protest are not prepared wholly to reject, we 
like to simplify and reduce ; and the instances of 
good and devoted men who are averse to dogma, 
more frequent than usual in this age, are powerful to 
persuade us that in lightening the cargo we are really 
securing the safe voyage of the ship. " About dogma 
we hear dispute, but the laws of high social morality no 
speculation is disposed to question. Why not get rid 
of the disputable, and concentrate all our strength on 
grasping the undisputed?" We may by a little 
wresting quote high authority for this recommenda- 
tion. " Whereto we have already attained .... let 

us mind the same thing And if in anything ye 

be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto 
you." * It is not difficult to conceive how, under the 
action of causes with which the time abounds, pure 
and lofty minds, wholly guiltless of the intention to 
impair or lower the motive forces of Christianity, 
may be led .into the snare, and may even conceive a 
process in itself destructive to be, on the contrary, 
conservative and reparatory. 

But it is a snare none the less. And first let us 

* Phil. iii. 15, 16. 



32 "ROBERT ELSMERE." 

recollect, when we speak of renouncing Christian 
dogma, what it is that we mean. The germ of it as 
a system lies in the formula, " Baptizing them in the 
name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy 
Ghost."* This was speedily developed into the sub- 
stance of the Apostles' Creed : the Creed which forms 
our confession of individual faith, in baptism and on 
the bed of death. Now belief in God, which forms 
(so to speak) the first great limb of the Creed, is 
strictly a dogma, and is on no account, according to 
Mrs. Ward, to be surrendered. But the second and 
greatest portion of the Creed contains twelve proposi- 
tions, of which nine are matters of fact, and the whole 
twelve have for their office the setting forth to us of 
a Personage, to whom a great dispensation has been 
committed. The third division of the Creed is more 
dogmatic, but it is bound down like the second to 
earth and fact by the article of the Church, a visible 
and palpable institution. The principal purely dog- 
matic part of this great document is the part which 
is to be retained. And we, who accept the Christian 
story, are entitled to say, that to extrude from a his 
tory, tied to strictly human facts, that by which they 
become a standing channel of organic connection be- 
tween Deity and humanity, is not presumptively a 
very hopeful mode of strengthening our belief in God, 

* St. Matt, jucviii. 19. 



'ROBERT ELSMERE." 



33 



thus deprived of its props and accessories. The chasm 
between deity and the human soul, over which the 
scheme of Redemption has thrown a bridge, again 
yawns beneath our feet, in all its breadth and depth. 

Although the Divinity of Christ is not put promi- 
nently forward in this book, but rather the broader 
objection to supernatural manifestations, yet it will 
be found to be the real hinge of the entire question. 
For, if Christ be truly God, few will deny that the 
exceptional incidents, which follow in the train of 
His appearance upon earth, raise, in substance, no 
new difficulty. Is it true, then, that Christians have 
been so divided on this subject as to promise us a re- 
turn of peace and progress by its elimination ? 

To answer this question rightly, we must not take 
the humor of this or that particular time or country, 
but must regard the Christian system in its whole 
extension, and its whole duration. So regarding it, 
we shall find that the assertion, far from being true, 
is glaringly untrue. The truth in rude outline is 
surely this. That when the Gospel went out into the 
world, the greatest of all the groups of controversies, 
which progressively arose within its borders, was that 
which concerned the true nature of the Object of 
worship. That these controversies ran through the 
most important shapes, which have been known to 
the professing Church of later years, and through 
many more. That they rose, especially in the fourth 



34 " ROBERT ELSM ERE." 

century, to such a height, amidst the conflict of 
councils, popes, and theologians, that the private 
Christian was too often like the dove wandering over 
the waters, and seeking in vain a resting-place for the 
sole of his foot. That the whole mind and heart of 
the Church were given, in their whole strength and 
through a lengthened period, to find some solution 
of these controversies. That many generations passed 
before Arianism wholly ceased to be the basis of 
Christian profession in spots or sections of Christen- 
dom, but not so long before the central thought of 
the body as a whole had come to be fixed in the form 
of what has ever since, and now for over fourteen 
hundred years, been known as the orthodox belief. 
The authority of this tradition, based upon the Scrip- 
tures, has through all that period been upheld at the 
highest point to which a marvellous continuity and 
universality could raise it. It was not impeached by 
the questioning mind of the thirteenth century. The 
scientific revolution, which opened to us the antipodes 
and the solar system, did not shake it. The more 
subtle dangers of the Renaissance were dangers to 
Christianity as a whole, but not to this great element 
of Christianity as a part. And when the terrible 
struggles of the Reformation stirred every coarse 
human passion as well as every fond religious inter- 
est into fury, even then the Nicene belief, as Moliler 
in his " Symbolik " has so well observed, sat undis- 



"ROBERT ELSMERE." 35 

turbed in a region elevated above the controversies 
of the time ; which only touched it at points so ex- 
ceptional, and comparatively so obscure, as not ap- 
preciably to qualify its majestic authority. A Chris- 
tianity without Christ is no Christianity ; and a Christ 
not divine is one other than the Christ on whom the 
souls of Christians have habitually fed. What virtue, 
what piety, have existed outside of Christianity, is a 
question totally distinct. But to hold that, since the 
great controversy of the early time was wound up at 
Chalcedon, the question of our Lord's Divinity (which 
draws after it all that Robert Elsmere would excide), 
has generated the storms of the Christian atmosphere, 
would be simply an historical untruth. How then is 
the work of peace to be promoted by the excision 
from our creed of that central truth on which we are 
generally agreed ? 

The onward movement of negation in the present 
day has presented perhaps no more instructive feat- 
ure than this, that the Unitarian persuasion has, in 
this country at least, by no means thriven upon it. 
It might have been thought that, in the process of dilap- 
idation, here would have been a point at which the re- 
ceding tide of belief would have rested at any rate 
for a while. But instead of this, we are informed 
that the numbers of professed Unitarians have in. 
creased less than those of other communions, and less 
than the natural growth of the population. And we 



36 " ROBERT ELSMERE." 

find Mrs. Ward herself describing the old Unitarian 
scheme * as one wholly destitute of logic ; but in 
what respect she improves upon it I have not yet per- 
ceived. 

In order to invest any particular propagandism 
with a show of presumptive title to our acceptance, 
its author should be able to refer it to some standard 
of appeal which will show that it has foundations 
otherwise than in mere private judgment or active 
imagination. The books of the New Testament I 
understand to be, for Mrs. Ward, of no value except 
for the moral precepts they contain. Still less may 
we invoke the authority of the Old Testament, where 
the ethical picture is more chequered. She finds no 
spell in the great moral miracle (so to phrase it) of 
the Psalms ; nor in the marvellous propaideia of the 
Jewish history, so strikingly confirmed by recent re- 
search ; in the Levitical law, the prophetic teaching, 
the entire dispensation of temporal promise and of 
religious worship and instruction, by which the 
Hebrew race was kept in social isolation through 
fifteen centuries, as a cradle for the Redeemer that 
was to come. She is not awakened by the Christian 
more than by the Jewish history. No way to her 
assent is opened by the great victory of the world's 
babes and striplings over its philosophers and schol- 

417. 



'ROBERT ELSMERE." 



37 



ars, and the serried array of emperors, aristocracies, 
and statesmen, with their elaborate apparatus of or- 
ganized institutions. All this cogent mass of human 
testimony is rendered, I admit, on behalf not of a 
vague and arbitrary severance of Christian morals 
from the roots which have produced them, but of 
what we term the Christian dogma, that is to say, of 
belief in God supplemented and brought home by the 
great fact of Redemption, and of the provision made 
through the Church of Christ for the perpetual con- 
servation and application of its living powers. 

And it must be observed that, in adducing this 
evidence from consent, I make no assumption and 
beg no question as between reformed and unreformed 
Christianity. By any such preferential treatment of 
a part, I should weaken the authority and betray 
the sacred cause of the whole. All that can be 
said or shown of the corruptions that have gathered 
round the central scheme, of the failure rightly to 
divide the word of truth, of the sin and shame that 
in a hundred forms have belied its profession, affords 
only new proof of the imperishable vitality that has 
borne so much disease, of the buoyancy of the ark on 
whose hull has grown so much of excrescence with- 
out arresting its course through the waters. And 
again, the concord of Christians ever since the great 
adjudication of the fifth century on the central truth 
has acquired an addition of weight almost incalcu- 



38 ' ' KOBER T ELSMERE." 

lablc, from the fact they have differed so sharply upon 
many of the propositions that are grouped around it. 
Without doubt human testimony is to be duly and 
strictly sifted, and every defect in its quantity or 
quality is to be recorded in the shape of a deduction 
from its weight. But as there is no proceeding more 
irreverent, so there is none more strictly irrational, 
than its wholesale depreciation. Such depreciation 
is an infallible note of shallow and careless thinking, 
for it very generally implies an exaggerated and 
almost ludicrous estimate of the capacity and per- 
formances of the present generation, as compared with 
those which have preceded it. Judges in our own 
cause, pleaders with nobody to reply, we take ample 
note of every comparative advantage we possess, but 
forget to register deteriorating and disqualifying in- 
fluences. Not less commonly is our offence avenged 
by our own inconsistency. The solemn voice of the 
ages, the securus judicat orbis terrarum, amounts sim- 
ply to zero for Robert Elsmere. Yet he can abso- 
lutely surrender to his own selected pope the guid- 
ance of his understanding ; and when he asks himself, 
at the funeral in the third volume, whether the more 
modest, that is, the emasculated, form of human hope 
in the presence of the Eternal, may not be " as real, 
as sustaining," as the old one, his reply to this great 
question is " Let Grey's trust answer for me." * 



' ROBERT ELSMERE." 



39 



This great buttress of the old religion, whatever its 
value, is then withdrawn from the new one, which 

starts like 

" a painted ship 
Upon a painted ocean," 

accredited by a successful venture among the Lon- 
don artisans, who differ (so we are told) not only from 
the classes above and beneath them in the metropolis, 
as to their disposition to accept the Christian doc- 
trines, but from their own brethren in the north.* It 
is not, therefore, on testimony that the Elsmere gos- 
pel takes its stand. Does it, then, stand upon phi- 
losophy, upon inherent beauty and fitness, as com- 
pared with the scheme which it dismembers and then 
professes to replace ? Again, be it borne in mind 
that the essence of the proposal is to banish the su- 
pernatural idea and character of our Lord, but to im- 
bibe and assimilate His moral teachings. 

From my antiquated point of view, this is simply 
to bark the tree, and then, as the death which ensues 
is not immediate, to point out with satisfaction on 
the instant that it still waves living branches in the 
wind. We have before us a huge larcenous appro- 
priation, by the modern schemes, of goods which do 
not belong to them. They carry peacocks' feathers, 
which adorn them for a time, and which they cannot 

* 472, 473- 



40 "ROBERT ELSMERE." 

reproduce. Let us endeavor to learn whether these 
broad assumptions, which flow out of the historic tes- 
timony of the Christian ages, are also prompted and 
sustained by the reason of the case. 

It is sometimes possible to trace peculiar and 
marked types of human character with considerable 
precision to their causes. Take, for instance, the 
Spartan type of character, in its relation to the legis- 
lation attributed to Lycurgus. Or take, again, the 
Jewish type, such as it is presented to us both by 
the ancient and the later history, in its relation to the 
Mosaic law and institutions. It would surely have 
been a violent paradox, in either of these cases, to 
propose the abolition of the law, and to assert at the 
same time that the character would continue to be 
exhibited, not only sporadically and for a time, but 
normally and in permanence. 

These were restricted, almost tribal, systems. 
Christianity, though by no means less peculiar, was 
diffusive. It both produced a type of character 
wholly new to the Roman world, and it funda- 
mentally altered the laws and institutions, the tone, 
temper, and tradition of that world. For example, 
it changed profoundly the relation of the poor to the 
rich, and the almost forgotten obligations of the rich 
to the poor. It abolished slavery, abolished human 
sacrifice, abolished gladiatorial shows, and a multitude 
of other horrors. It restored the position of woman 



"ROBERT ELSMERE." 41 

in society. It proscribed polygamy ; and put down 
divorce, absolutely in the West, though not abso- 
lutely in the East. It made peace, instead of war, 
the normal and presumed relation between human 
societies. It exhibited life as a discipline everywhere 
and in all its parts, and changed essentially the place 
and function of suffering in human experience. Ac- 
cepting the ancient morality as far as it went, it not 
only enlarged but transfigured its teaching, by the 
laws of humility and qf forgiveness, and by a law of 
purity perhaps even more new and strange than these. 
Let it be understood that I speak throughout not of 
such older religion as may have subsisted in the lowly 
and unobserved places of human life, but of what 
stamped the character of its strongholds ; of the ele- 
ments which made up the main and central currents 
of thought, action, and influence, in those places, and 
in those classes, which drew the rest of the world in 
their train. All this was not the work of a day, but 
it was the work of powers and principles which per- 
sistently asserted themselves in despite of controversy, 
of infirmity, and of corruption in every form ; which 
reconstituted in life and vigor a society found in de- 
cadence ; which by degrees came to pervade the very 
air we breathe ; and which eventually have beyond 
all dispute made Christendom the dominant portion, 
and Christianity the ruling power, of the world. And 
all this has been done, not by eclectic and arbitrary 



42 "ROBERT ELSMEh 

fancies, but by the creed of the Homoousian, in which 
the philosophy of modern times sometimes appears 
to find a favorite theme of ridicule. But it is not 
less material to observe that the whole fabric, social 
as well as personal, rests on the new type of individ- 
ual character which the Gospel brought into life and 
action : enriched and completed without doubt from 
collateral sources which made part of the " Evangel- 
ical preparation," but in its central essence due en- 
tirely to the dispensation, which had been founded 
and wrought out in the land of Judea, and in the his- 
tory of the Hebrew race. What right have we to de- 
tach, or to suppose we can detach, this type of per- 
sonal character from the causes out of which as mat- 
ter of history it has grown, and to assume that 
without its roots it will thrive as well as with them ? 
For Mrs. Ward is so firmly convinced, and so affec- 
tionately sensible, of the exquisite excellence of the 
Christian type that she will permit no abatement 
from it, though she thinks it can be cast in a mould 
which is human as well as, nay, better than, in one 
which is divine. Nor is she the first person who, in 
renouncing the Christian tradition, has reserved her 
allegiance to Christian morals and even sought to 
raise their standard. We have, for instance, in 
America, not a person only, but a society, which, 
while trampling on the Divinity and Incarnation of 
Christ, not only accepts His rule of life, but pushes 



ROBERT ELSMERE." 



43 



evangelical counsels into absolute precepts, and in- 
sists upon them as the rule of life for all who seek, 
instead of abiding in the " lower floor churches," to be 
Christians indeed. " The fundamental principles of 
Shakerism " are " virgin purity, non-resistance, peace, 
equality of inheritance, and unspottedness from the 
world." * The evidence of travellers appears to show 
that the ideal of these projectors has to a certain de- 
gree been realized ; nor can we know for how many 
years an eccentric movement of this kind will endure 
the test of time without palpably giving way. The 
power of environment, and the range of idiosyncrasy, 
suffice to generate, especially in dislocating times, all 
sorts of abnormal combinations, which subsist, in a 
large degree, upon forces not their own, and so im- 
pose themselves, with a show of authority, upon the 
world. 

Let us return to the point. The Christian type is 
the product and the property of the Christian scheme. 
No, says the objector, the improvements which we 
witness are the offspring of civilization. It might be 
a sufficient answer to point out that the civilization 
before and around us is a Christian civilization. What 
civilization could do without Christianity for the 
greatest races of mankind, we know already. Philos- 

*The quotation is from a preface to "Shaker Sermons," 
by H. L. Eads, Bishop of South Union, Kentucky. Fourth 
edition, 1887. 



44 "ROBERT ELSMERE" 

ophy and art, creative genius and practical energy, 
had their turn before the Advent ; and we can register 
the results. I do not say that the great Greek and 
Roman ages lost perhaps even they improved the 
ethics of meum and tuutn, in the interests of the lei- 
sured and favored classes of society, as compared with 
what those ethics had been in archaic times. But 
they lost the hold which some earlier races within 
their sphere had had of the future life. They de- 
graded, and that immeasurably, the position of 
woman. They effaced from the world the law of 
purity. They even carried indulgence to a worse 
than bestial type ; and they gloried in the achieve- 
ment.* Duty and religion, in the governing classes 
and the governing places, were absolutely torn asun- 
der ; and self-will and self-worship were established 
as the unquestioned rule of life. It is yet more im- 
portant to observe that the very qualities which are 
commended in the Beatitudes, and elsewhere in the 
Sermon on the Mount, and which form the base of 
the character specifically Christian, were for the Greek 
and the Roman mind the objects of contempt. From 
the history of all that has lain within the reach of the 
great Mediterranean basin, not a tittle of encourage- 
ment can be drawn for the ideas of those, who would 
surrender the doctrines of Christianity and yet retain 
its moral and spiritual fruits. 

* See /or instance the 'Epurec of Lucian. 



"ROBERT ELSMERE." 45. 

Does then that severance, unsustained by authority 
or by experience, commend itself at any single point 
by an improved conformity with purely abstract prin- 
ciples of philosophy ? and is the new system better 
adapted to the condition and the needs of human na- 
ture, than the old ? Does it better correspond with 
what an enlightened reason would dictate as the best 
provision for those needs ? Does it mitigate, or does 
it enhance, the undoubted difficulties of belief? And 
if the answer must be given in the negative to both 
these inquiries, how are we to account for the strange 
phenomenon which exhibits to us persons sincerely, 
nay painfully, desirous of seeing Divine government 
more and more accepted in the world, yet enthusias- 
tically busied in cutting away the best among the 
props, by which that government has been heretofore 
sustained ? 

As regards the first of these three questions, it is to 
be observed that, while the older religions made free 
use of prodigy and portent, they employed these in- 
struments for political rather than moral purposes; 
and it may be doubted whether the sum total of such 
action tended to raise the standard of life and thought. 
The general upshot was that the individual soul felt 
itself very far from God. Our bedimmed eye could 
not perceive His purity ; and our puny reach could 
not find touch of His vastness. By the scheme of 
Redemption, this sense of distance was removed. 



46 "ROBERT ELSMERE." 

The divine perfections were reflected through the 
medium of a perfect humanity, and were thus made 
near, familiar, and liable to love. The great all-per- 
vading law of human sympathy became directly avail- 
able for religion, and in linking us to the Divine Hu- 
manity, linked us by the same act to God. And this 
not for rare and exceptional souls alone, but for the 
common order of mankind. The direct contact, the 
interior personal communion of the individual with 
God, was re-established : for human faculties, in their 
normal action, could now appreciate, and approach 
to, what had previously been inappreciable and un- 
approachable. Surely the system I have thus rudely 
exhibited was ideally a great philosophy, as well as 
practically an immeasurable boon. To strike out the 
redemptive clauses from the scheme is to erase the 
very feature by which it essentially differed from all 
other schemes; and to substitute a didactic exhibi- 
tion of superior morality, with the rays of an example 
in the preterite tense, set by a dead man in Judea, for 
that scheme of living forces, by which the powers of 
a living Saviour's humanity are daily and hourly 
given to man, under a charter which expires only 
with the world itself. Is it possible here to discern, 
either from an ideal or from a practical point of view, 
anything but depletion and impoverishment, and the 
substitution of a spectral for a living form ? 

If we proceed to the second question, the spec- 



"ROBERT ELSMERE." 4; 

tacle, as it presents itself to me, is stranger still. Al- 
though we know that James Mill, arrested by the 
strong hand of Bishop Butler, halted rather than rested 
for a while in theism on his progress towards general 
negation, yet his case does not supply, nor can we 
draw from other sources, any reason to regard such a 
position as one which can be largely and permanently 
held against that relentless force of logic, which is 
ever silently at work to assert and to avenge itself. 
The theist is confronted, with no breakwater between, 
by the awful problem of moral evil, by the mystery 
of pain, by the apparent anomalies of waste and of 
caprice on the face of creation ; and not least of all 
by the fact that, while the moral government of the 
world is founded on the free agency of man, there are 
in multitudes of cases environing circumstances inde- 
pendent of his will which seem to deprive that agency, 
called free, of any operative power adequate to con- 
tend against them. In this bewildered state of 
things, in this great enigma of the world, " Who is 
this that cometh from Edom, with dyed garments 
from Bozrah? . . . Wherefore art thou red in thine 
apparel, and thy garments like him that treadeth in 
the winefat? "* There has come upon the scene the 
figure of a Redeemer, human and divine. Let it be 
granted that the Incarnation is a marvel wholly be- 

* Is. Ixiii. i, 2. 



4 8 "ROBERT ELSMERE." 

yond our reach, and that the miracle of the Resurrec- 
tion to-day gives serious trouble to fastidious intel- 
lects. But the difficulties of a baffled understanding, 
lying everywhere around us in daily experience, are 
to be expected from its limitations; not so the shocks 
encountered by the moral sense. Even if the Chris- 
tian scheme slightly lengthened the immeasurable 
catalogue of the first, this is dust in the balance com- 
pared with the relief it furnishes to the second ; in 
supplying the most powerful remedial agency ever 
known, in teaching how pain may be made a helper, 
and evil transmuted into good ; and in opening 
clearly the vision of another world, in which we are 
taught to look for yet larger counsels of the Almighty 
wisdom. To take away, then, the agency so beneficent, 
which has so softened and reduced the moral prob- 
lems that lie thickly spread around us, and to leave us 
face to face with them in all their original rigor, is to 
enhance and not to mitigate the difficulties of belief. 
Lastly, it is not difficult to understand why those 
who prefer the Pagan ideal, or who cannot lay hold 
on the future world, or who labor under still greater 
disadvantages, should put aside as a whole the Gospel 
of God manifest in the flesh. But Mrs. Ward is none 
of these; and it is far harder to comprehend the 
mental attitude, or the mental consistency at least, 
of those who like her desire to retain what was mani- 
fested, but to thrust aside the manifesting Person, 



ROBERT ELSMERE:' 



49 



and all that His living personality entails: or, if I 
may borrow an Aristotelian figure, to keep the acci- 
dents and discard the substance. I cannot pretend 
to offer a solution of this hard riddle. But there is 
one feature which almost uniformly marks writers 
whose mind as in this case is of a religious tone, or 
who do not absolutely exclude religion, while they 
reject the Christian dogma and the authority of 
Scripture. They appear to have a very low estimate 
both of the quantity and the quality of sin : of its 
amount, spread like a deluge over the world, and of 
the subtlety, intensity, and virulence of its nature. 
I mean a low estimate as compared with the mourn- 
ful denunciations of the sacred writings, or with the 
language especially of the later Christian Confessions. 
Now let it be granted that, in interpreting those Con- 
fessions, we do not sufficiently allow for the enor- 
mous differences among human beings differences 
both of original disposition, and of ripened character. 
We do not sufficiently take account of the fact that, 
while disturbance and degradation have so heavily 
affected the mass, there are a happy few on whom 
nature's degeneracy has but lightly laid its hand. In 
the biography of the late Dr. Marsh we have an illus- 
tration apt for my purpose. His family was straitly 
Evangelical. He underwent what he deemed to be 
conversion. A like-minded friend congratulated his 
mother on the work of Divine grace in her son. But, 



50 "ROBERT ELSMERE." 

in the concrete, she mildly resented the remark, and 
replied that in truth " Divine grace would find very 
little to do in her son William." 

In the novel of " The Unclassed," by the author of 
" Thyrza," which like " Robert Elsmere " is of the 
didactic and speculative class, the leading man-char- 
acter, when detailing his mental history, says that 
" sin " has never been for him a word of weighty im- 
port. So ingenuous a confession is not common. I 
remember but one exception to the rule that the 
negative writers of our own day have formed, or at 
least have exhibited, a very feeble estimate of the 
enormous weight of sin, as a factor in the condition 
of man and of the world. That exception is Amiel. 
Mrs. Ward has prefixed to her translation of his re- 
markable and touching work an Introduction from 
which I make the following extract : 

" His Calvinistic training lingers long in him ; and what 
detaches him from the Hegelian school, with which he has 
much in common, is his own stronger sense of personal need, 
his preoccupation with the idea of sin. He speaks (says M. 
Renan contemptuously) of sin, of salvation, of redemption 
and conversion, as if these things were realities. He asks 
me, ' What does M. Renan make of sin ? ' ' Eh bien, je 
crois que je le supprime.' " 

The closing expression is a happy one : sin is for the 
most part suppressed. 

We are bound to believe, and I for one do believe, 
that in many cases the reason why the doctrines of 



"ROBERT ELSMERE." 51 

grace, so profoundly embedded in the Gospel, are 
dispensed with by the negative writers of the day, is 
in many cases because they have not fully had to feel 
the need of them: because they have not travelled 
with Saint Paul through the dark valley of agonizing 
conflict, or with Dante along the circles downward 
and the hill upward ; because, having to bear a smaller 
share than others of the common curse and burden, 
they stagger and falter less beneath its weight. 

But ought they not to know that they are physi- 
cians, who have not learned the principal peril of the 
patient's case, and whose prescription accordingly 
omits the main requisite for a cure ? For surely in 
this matter 1 there should be no mistake. As the en- 
tire Levitical institutions seem to have been con- 
structed to impress upon the Hebrew mind a deep 
and definite idea of sin, we find in the New Testa- 
ment that that portion of our Lord's work was so to 
speak ready-made. But He placed it at the founda- 
tion of His great design for the future. " When the 
Comforter is come, He will reprove the world of sin, 
and of righteousness, and of judgment."* Mrs. 
Ward seeks, and even with enthusiasm, to " make for 
righteousness "; but the three terms compose an or- 
ganic whole, and if a part be torn away the residue 
will bleed to death. For the present, however, we 

*John xvi. 8. 



24501 

52 "ROBERT ELSMEK 

have only to rest in the real though but partial con- 
solation that, if the ancient and continuous creed of 
Christendom has slipped away from its place in Mrs. 
Ward's brilliant and subtle understanding, it has 
nevertheless by no means lost a true, if unacknowl* 
edged, hold upon the inner sanctuary of her heart. 



University of California 

SOUTHERN REGIONAL LIBRARY FACILITY 

405 Hilgard Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90024-1388 

Return this material to the library 

from which it was borrowed. 



OlOCT 



Itftf 




" I'he uncc 
literary gra* 

will be mor, M UQO 737 97l" 

tention of that constant UUK. .... *" ' 2 

<y /^f skeptical belles-lettres of the day." 



rument with 
culation. It 
to get the af- 
is been shaken 



THE DIVINE ORIGIN OF CHRISTIANITY INDICATED 
BY ITS HISTORICAL EFFECTS. Ten Lectures, 
with Notes, by RICHARD S. STORRS, D.D., LL.D. 

One vol., 8vo $2.5O 

One vol., I2mo 2. OO 

Of the purpose of these lectures it may be said, that 
they are neither metaphysical nor theological in their 
character. The author simply assumes the existence 
of the New Testament writings, and with no prelim- 
inary examination of the authenticity of their reputed 
authorship, traces the various influences exerted by 
Christianity over the spiritual, social, moral, mental, 
and political life of mankind. The author's high rep- 
utation as a lecturer in history is sufficient guarantee 
of accurate scholarship and exhaustive research. As 
an impartial .and scholarly survey of the history of 
humanitarianism and philanthropy, and of the rapid 
and steady progress made since the advent of Christ, 
in the various departments of human life, letters and 
morals, music, politics, and society, this book, it is 
confidently believed, is wider in its range, and more 
comprehensive in its treatment of the subject than anyj 
other similar volume heretofore published. The skilfu 
marshalling of this vast array of facts, so as to sa 
port, illustrate, and fortify the argument advanced! 
the author, makes the book a most brilliant con]| 
tion to the literature of Christian apologetics. 

" No living preacher is better qualified than Ij 
to prepare such a work. His historical studies, 
profound and minute. He preserves the calm 
the historian in defending the thesis assigned^ 



I hi: 

" In tin- bin:.. 



till' I: 

and v 

and quali: nun and 

the 

half of tin img 

which tin 
los< 
'op . 
<?h 

tipani.-s it in 
Cit I >: 

b<> i he 

of 

>!.!'! I & CO., 

\Vl 1 JUKI' -